Editorial: Trump’s wall, border crossings and a revealing GOP narrative
One national story grabbing headlines these days, particularly on conservative stations like Fox News, is the number of Central American youth who are crossing the United State’s southern border illegally. Conservative media is hyping the story because they are desperate to distract their viewers’ attention from the successful passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act.
That legislation, which was passed with unanimous support from Democrats and opposed unanimously by Republicans, is sending $1,400 checks to Americans in need, plus billions to help reopen the nation’s schools, enhance the production and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine so all Americans can be vaccinated by early summer, and to provide hundreds of billions to cash-strapped states, cities, towns and schools. Rather than focus on the benefits to all Americans from the bill — which they covered exhaustively when the Trump administration passed two separate COVID-19 related funding measures — their focus is to shift their viewers’ attention to a subject that riles them.
That subject is immigration, specifically, illegal immigration from Mexico. It’s a hot-button issue for Republicans that feeds into the Trump-induced anti-immigrant attitude adopted by the Republican Party. Just mention the subject and conservatives steeped in white supremacy rhetoric leap to assumptions based on distorted information and outright falsehoods.
A recently submitted letter to the editor, for example, suggests that President Biden is cutting holes in Trump’s majestic border wall to allow hordes of migrants to just walk right into the country to be fed, clothed, housed and cared for with taxpayer dollars forever more. That’s the type of misinformation (or garbage) that Fox commentators like Tucker Carlson spew to agitate their viewers and keep them coming back for more.
The issue, of course, is important and must be addressed. But let’s review, calmly, a few concrete facts about the current conversation, which largely involves Trump’s infamous border wall:
• Trump’s wall is already one of the costliest megaprojects in U.S. history and is on a trajectory to cost more than $15 billion. And, no, Mexico is not picking up the tab as Trump promised. U.S. taxpayers are paying favored Republican-owned companies top-dollar to build what has been, to date, just 47 new miles of border wall.
• The nation’s southern border with Mexico stretches 1,954 miles. According to a recent report in the New York Times, the Trump administration’s work completed just 453 miles of border wall construction since 2017, the vast majority of which, per the Times, “involved upgrading smaller existing barriers. In places where no barriers previously existed, the Trump administration built a total of 47 miles of new primary wall.” In other words, Trump spent a lot of taxpayers’ money to get not much done but which gave him, and Fox News, endless talking points to rile up Trump supporters.
As if to emphasize that point, a group of Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., made a showboat excursion last week to a section of the wall in Arizona that featured a gap between two sections of the wall that Trump’s effort failed to complete. Proclaiming President Biden would be at fault not to fix what Trump failed to do, he suggested Biden’s was letting migrants walk through holes in the wall to the nation’s demise. What Sen. Graham and others didn’t say, however, was that large gaps are everywhere along the other 1,500 miles of the border without any wall. More importantly, the highest concentrations of illegal border crossings are in south Texas, not in the remote area of Arizona where Graham and other Republican senators posed for the cameras. Furthermore, several new miles of construction of the wall were in short sections (100s of feet) in the middle of nowhere along the Arizona border with no apparent rational basis.
• A 34-month audit of border wall construction by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General last year — during Trump’s administration, mind you — identified significant problems, concluding that Customs and Border Protection, the Time’s reported, “did not use a sound, well-documented methodology to identify and prioritize investments in areas along the border that would best benefit from physical barriers.” In other words, where Trump built his 47 additional miles of fence, plus 12 new miles under construction, were in places ill advised and unproductive.
Those are pertinent facts about Trump’s wall to set the record straight for local readers and help expose the futility of the project.
President Biden does face tough choices on how to deal, in humanitarian ways, with the influx of children crossing the nation’s southern border. Solutions, however, are not out of reach. Many of America’s western allies have developed successful programs that benefit their economies and societies. But to get there Republican leaders need to stop showboating for partisan purposes and be honest about the crux of the issue.
For their part, many American voters need to quit blaming others and open their eyes to the political realities of this issue. First, those voters most gullible to Trump’s macho appeal must understand that Trump’s hullabaloo to build a border wall was a political gimmick from day one. It made him appear tough on this issue, but it was never meant to solve the problem — as demonstrated by the few new miles of border wall he actually built.
Suitable solutions could be found if our nation’s leaders would pursue a foreign-worker program that effectively weaves migrant workers into the country to fill labor shortages where needed to help American businesses be successful. A secondary step would be to provide a path to citizenship for those wanting to stay.
If Republican leaders would work with Democrats and President Biden with that simple goal in mind, the nation could easily resolve its differences over immigration policy — to the benefit of everyone.
What’s the downside?
Politics. If the problem were resolved, Republicans would lose a crucial political talking point they have used to rally their supporters — through divisive rhetoric and animosity toward migrant workers — and to demonize their opponents. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to guess which strategy they are most likely to pursue.
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